On August 23, 1973, an escaped felon named Jan Erik Olsson walked into the Kreditbanken in central Stockholm and attempted to rob it at gunpoint. When Stockholm police arrived on the scene, Olsson opened fire and injured one policeman before taking four bank employees hostage. He demanded that his fellow convict, Clark Olafsson, be brought to the bank along with a sizable ransom in exchange for his hostages' lives.
Experts typically classify nuclear and radiological terrorism into four threat categories. First, a non-state actor such as a terrorist or criminal or a group of terrorists or criminals could acquire a nuclear weapon from an arsenal of a nuclear-armed state. The acquisition could occur through theft because the weapon was unsecured or through a gift because a custodian wants the non-state actor to have the weapon, or one or more officials of that state wants to transfer one or more weapons to the non-state actor. Conceivably, the non-state actor could blackmail nuclear custodians by making credible threats to the custodians themselves or their loved ones.
The assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did more than knock off U.S. Public Enemy Number One. It formalized a new kind of warfare, where sovereignty is irrelevant, armies tangential, and decisions are secret. It is, in the words of counterinsurgency expert John Nagl, “an astounding change in the nature of warfare.”
Today an invisible threat is hanging over the major American cities. This is undermining the blissful sense of security which has been cultivated in the citizens of the only global superpower following the Cold War. This threat, called bioterrorism, concerns a possible terrorist attack in the heart of a major American city using lethal microorganisms. Bioterrorism is America’s worst nightmare, replacing the position previously held by nuclear terror at the top of the pantheon of mass American fears.